Iraq War dominates Tenth Imperial War Museum Film Festival Awards as winners are announced

By Richard Moss | 10 February 2011
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a film still showing an Iraqi man lighting candles in front of a banner
A Candle for the Shabandar Café (2007)© Emad Ali
Alliance combat troops may have left Iraq, but the ongoing pain of a troubled country which continues to suffer suicide bombings and violent unrest is still capturing the imaginations of UK film and TV audiences.

At a screening and ceremony held at Imperial War Museum London on February 8, Iraqi filmmakers dominated the honours in the museum’s Annual Film Festival Awards by grabbing two out of the three main prizes.

Doctor Nabil (2007), a searing documentary recounting the experiences of a surgeon working in a busy and under-resourced Baghdad hospital, won the Audience Poll for the young Iraqi documentary maker Ahmed Jabbar.

Best Documentary went to fellow Iraqi Emad Ali for A Candle for the Shabandar Café (2007). The film tells the story of the favourite haunt of Baghdad’s writers and intellectuals destroyed in March 2007 by a suicide bombing which ripped the heart out of the historic Al-Mutanabbi street book market killing 26 people.

Both filmmakers and films are products of the Independent Film and Television College in Baghdad, which provides free training for any Iraqi who can demonstrate the necessary interest, ability and commitment. The latter is something Iraqi filmmakers need in bucket loads.

a film still showing two surgeons
Doctor Nabil (2007)© Ahmed Jabbar
Between March 2006 and January 2009 the college had to close because of the violence, but students continued to work on their films. For Emad Ali, the struggles were even more intense and personal. His wife and father were killed in a mortar bomb attack on his apartment block and he narrowly survived an assassination attempt when returning from gathering his footage in Al-Mutanabbi Street.

Back in the comparative safety of the UK, filmmakers are also exploring the ongoing results of the Iraq war. Of the 18 films screened during the festival, which ran from November 7 2010 to January 2011, half focussed on the recent conflicts in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Alastair Uhlig’s The Birdman of Tamworth (2010), which took second place in the documentary category, reflects on the short life of Leon Spicer, who was killed while serving with the British Army in Iraq. Third place went to territorial soldier Martin Carey for his film Memories of Iraq (2010), about the experiences of his comrade Stephen McCoy, with whom he served when deployed to Iraq during the invasion of 2003.

But it was the work from Iraq which took the main plaudits. Ex-BBC producer and director Paul Anderson described Emad Ali’s film as “a view of Iraq that has been missing in UK documentary,” while Roger Smither, former Keeper of Film and Photographs at the IWM, noted how the film “got behind and around the usual media headlines.”

Away from these conflicts, the prize for the Best Imaginative Response to the Subject of War went to an innovative treatment of a story from World War Two.

Alina Gavrielatos’ blend of film, animation and documentary, The Ghost of Morris Horn (2010), told the true story of an English soldier and the Greeks who hid him from the German Army for two years during the Second World War. 
  • All of the winning films will be screened in the Imperial War Museum’s cinema in a 54 minute programme on: February 13 at 11am and 12pm; February 19-20 at 10.30am and 3pm; February 23-25 at 3pm and February 26 at 10.30am and 3pm.
  • Maysoon Pachachi, one of the lecturers and founders of the Independent Film & Television College in Baghdad, will introduce a screening of Doctor Nabil and A Candle for the Shabandar Café and talk about the work of the college and her students at 2pm on Saturday February 12.
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